Birth is a very personal matter, and entering the sacred feminine space that surrounds birth is a privilege.
On paper, Kelly Carrington looks similar to the other 12,000 doulas that have been certified through DONA International, the world’s largest accrediting organization of doulas. The busy 40-year-old parent of three boys has been a registered massage therapist for the past two decades. As the owner of Evolution Massage Therapy, this small-business entrepreneur is always on the go. As moms, we know exactly what it feels like to balance work and home. Here’s the thing: Kelly’s a Dad.
A quick glance at Kelly, and one realizes that this isn’t your average doula. The 215-pound burly man, donning a beard and dreadlocks, is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when describing “a doula named Kelly.” However, one conversation with him, and it’s quickly evident that this is who you want in your corner when giving birth.
Kelly is Canada’s first male doula, and one of only a handful in North America. A birth doula offers non-clinical support to women and their families during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. While a doula is not involved in the physical delivery of the baby, they play an integral role in the birthing process. Educator, patient advocate, massage therapist, and emotional coach are only a few of the hats that a doula wears when working with a client.
Photo Credit: DeeDee Morris Photography
From the Greek word doulē, which translates to a female servant, a doula is typically thought of as female. In fact, Dictionary.com defines a doula as “a woman who assists women during labor and after childbirth.” Being the straight-shooter that he is, Kelly isn’t bothered by the outdated definition. His website mentions that there is no word or term to define a male birth attendant. When asked to create one, the answer came easy, “When I first got my certification, I was dubbed the ‘Man Doula,’ and it stuck,” he told Mothering.
Much like the births that he attends, Kelly’s career evolved naturally. As a registered massage therapist, many of his clients were women of child-bearing age. Through the use of touch, Kelly would provide treatments prior to conception, throughout their pregnancy, and then he would sometimes see them again later in life. However, he often wondered how they were doing from birth through the postpartum period.
As part of his continuing education for certification, Kelly took a class around the topic of being a massage therapist as a birth support person. Intrigued by what he learned, he spent the next two and a half years taking the necessary steps to become a certified doula.
While Kelly understands the quizzical looks and occasional questions that arise when he shares that he is a doula, in his mind, gender has very little to do with how to care for a laboring mother and her family.
“Some of my male friends do make fun of me because this is what I do, but whatever, this is what I do,” Carrington told CTV News. “The intention of the doula is, I think, more important than the gender of the doula.”
This attitude can at least partially be attributed to Carrington’s upbringing. Despite the culture 35 years ago, he and his younger brother were expected to help out around the house. Kelly recalls memories of doing dishes with his father, who held high expectations of his sons. Respect was an expectation in the Carrington home, not an option, especially towards women.
These values continue to stay with Kelly as he raises three boys of his own, ages 14, 10, and 7. “I could not do this work without the support of my wife and boys,” Kelly explains. “The boys are old enough now to understand that if they wake up and I’m not there, they need to pitch in and pick up the slack. Everyone has to play a part.”
Kelly’s decision to become a doula comes at a time where gender is a widely discussed topic in the field of obstetrics. Fifty years ago, men dominated the industry, accounting for 90% of all OB-GYNs. Today, fewer than half of those practicing in the specialty are men, and that number is expected to fall even further. According to the LA Times, only 17% of OB-GYN residents are males.
The fact that more women are entering the field should come as no surprise. Multiple studies have illustrated that, when given a choice, the majority of women prefer a female provider. Birth is a very personal matter, and some women feel that they can relate more closely to other females.
As the pendulum has swung the opposite way, so have attitudes about the once-male-dominated field. Ironically, because the specialty is now saturated with female providers, some medical programs are actively seeking out men.
Related: 20 Reasons You Should Hire a Doula
“I really do believe that diversity improves the quality of care,” said Dr. Reshma Jagsi. Dr. Jagsi believes that both men and women offer valuable contributions to medicine, and their varied perspectives can contribute to more advances in the field of obstetrics.
Without a doubt, there is still an important place at the table for males in the birth field. No one knows that better than the recipients of care from Kelly Carrington. In addition to helping women through the birthing process, Kelly is very skilled at relating to male partners.
“The work of a doula starts well before birth,” Kelly explains. He works extensively with both partners leading up to delivery, ensuring that everyone is comfortable.
When asked if he has ever experienced difficulty with a partner who inadvertently feels displaced, he emphatically answers, “No. I’ve never had that experience. I always say to the partner, ‘I’m not here to replace you. I’m part of the team, and everyone in this team has an equal say.’”
Kelly emphasizes that it’s important that the birth partner plays an integral role in supporting the birthing woman. “I tell the partners, ‘You have to be in there, and you have to be present.’ I help guide them in being the best partners that they can be.”
In the seven short years that Kelly has been a doula, he has begun to see significant shifts in the way that birth is handled. “I’ve noticed that families are becoming much more educated about their rights,” he shares. “Families are more apt to know more. And when you know more, you do better.”
Photos: DeeDee Morris Photography